Gary Burton: The New Quartet

The vibist's new quartet of 1973, here reissued on vinyl, featured Boston boys Mick Goodrick, Abe Laboriel and Harry Blazer

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Gary Burton must wonder what the reissue on LP of a notable album from the past – 50 years in the case of his latest – means in terms of anything other than commercial reward. Is it nostalgia? Could it reflect continuing vinyl mania? Or is it an unconscious attempt by the label to discover how recordings deemed historically significant emerge from late reassessment?

The New Quartet is the latest to appear in ECM’s Luminescence series of reissues on vinyl. It was new because it was the result of Burton’s move from New York to Boston and his decision to recruit local musicians. The four tracks by British composers Mike Gibbs and Gordon Beck – two charts apiece – now offer renewed interest for UK fans. With the rest, by Carla Bley, Keith Jarrett, Burton himself, and Chick Corea, they made an interesting conspectus.

The short-lived band enjoyed a “live” concert revival in 2010 when it was chosen by Burton to mark the 50th anniversary of his residency at the Berklee College of Music, where guitarist Mick Goodrick had been a long-serving staff member. Sadly perhaps, allowances must be made for the “new” quartet now sounding old rather than still fresh, a result of its dabbling with now time-locked funk-rock and the way Burton’s vibraphone was too often a silk thread woven into rough hessian.

Burton sounded vulnerable from the start on Corea’s Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly, a song that featured Goodrick’s gizmo-driven guitar inflections and Harry Blazer’s juggernaut drumming. The pointer to a more satisfactory outcome was Jarrett’s ballad Coral, indicating that tempo was key to the flowering of Burton’s inherent lyricism and sophisticated drive, and that Bley’s modal-sounding Olhos De Gato would be their ideal setting. Beck’s two fun features, Tying Up Loose Ends and Mallet Man, offered eccentric workouts for the ensemble, as did Gibbs’s Four Or Less and Nonsequence.

For the Burton-Goodrick duo to do its best, though, it was better that they had not been now and then assailed from behind by Blazer and bassist Abe Laboriel, bless them both.

Discography
Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly; Coral; Tying Up Loose Ends; Brownout; Olhos De Gato; Mallet Man; Four Or Less; Nonsequence (45.52)
Burton (vib); Michael Goodrick (g); Abraham Laboriel (b); Harry Blazer (d). Massachusetts, 5-6 March 1973.
ECM Records 4505324